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Vandy’s Mason is a coach on the rise

Tribune News Service • Jul 13, 2017 at 9:30 AM

HOOVER, Ala. — In the course of a year, Derek Mason went from hot seat to hot shot.

That's what happens for Vanderbilt football coaches who go to bowl games.

That's what happens for Vanderbilt coaches whose teams put 45 points on Tennessee.

In fact, that's what happens for all football coaches who exceed expectations and ignite their fan bases.

In truth, Tennessee's Butch Jones could learn a thing or three from Mason, the energetic coach entering his fourth year on the West End with a charming smile and charismatic style.

"There are only two kinds of people in this world," Mason told the media throng Tuesday at the Southeastern Conference preseason gathering. "The limited and the limitless. You just have to figure out who you are."

Football coaches have a special language. Call it coach-speak. Call it cliche-diction. Call it an innate trait of talking and talking without saying anything.

And that's not changing. The days of Steve Spurrier and the leaguewide zinger are gone, the rhetoric replaced by robotic responses.

With Mason, though, the energy becomes contagious. He delivers catch-phrases and mottoes like every football.

"Make days count, don't count the days," he told the group.

"Relentless, tough and intelligent. We want to be that all the time."

"Here's what I know: Football is still a game played between the white lines."

That could come from any head ball coach from just about any level.

Heck, Jones could have fashioned any of those just as easily as he coined "brick-by-brick" or "five-star hearts."

The lesson here is not the words but the delivery.

Mason said on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 the Zone that he's never called a bad defense, it's about the execution. He was kidding, of course, but it begs the question of not what is said but rather how. And how emphatically, emotionally and directly.

With Mason it feels less like coach-speak and more like motivation.

Jones has the connection of a fortune cookie. Mason has the connection of a rousing Sunday sermon.

Does either status equal points on Saturdays? Not directly, but we know that Vandy had less talent and more points last November.

Was that an coincidence? Maybe.

But what never will be forgotten was in the bowels of the stadium after Vandy waxed Tennessee, Jones was talking about champions of life and was in and out before the majority of the media folks got in and missed out.

Mason has not won as much as Butch, but the Vandy coach connects, his message felt by the listener as much as it's believed by the speaker.

And that's the thing. Perception of power is every bit as important as the power of perception.

Butch has a perception problem, every bit as real and dangerous as Alabama's defense or Georgia's 12 million returning starters.

Mason, however, has turned the tide of the hot-seat talk into whispers of whether some higher-profile gig may come calling.

Yes, Vandy's 45-34 win last year played a big part -- especially to the Anchor Down folks -- in the momentum turnaround. Mason carries the confidence that comes with that success. Vandy fans should, too.

Yes, the uphill battle that is the SEC always will be a fight for the Commodores, but with Mason leading the charge, that challenge seems more doable.

Mason boasts that all of Vandy's players are his guys now. The experience and maturity of his team give bounce to his bullet points.

That connection is not a coincidence. Nor is the fact that one in-state fan base is happy to have their coach and the Big Orange folks are wondering if their guy is the guy long-term.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6343.

—Jay Greeson

Chattanooga Times Free Press—

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